The Masque of the Red Death

The Masque of the Red Death ★★★

“You promised me entertainment. I never hoped for this.”

The most lavish of Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations, The Masque of the Red Death is most notable for its look. Nicolas Roeg’s cinematography perfectly captures all the colors of the costumes and the contrasting darkness of the world outside the castle of Prince Prospero (Vincent Price). Corman uses sets left over from Becket to make the production seem more expensive than it probably was. Price’s arrogant prince is more subtle and less campy than his usual villains. Hazel Court gives the doomed Juliana some poignance, and Jane Asher makes Francesca suitably vulnerable. The best performance is that of Skip Martin as the acrobatic dwarf who seems the smartest person in the prince’s court. Martin is magnetic both physically and with his deep voice.

“I must speak to you about the anatomy of terror.”

On the other hand, Russ Tamblyn-lookalike David Weston, who has a small role in Becket, is a bit lightweight as the hero. Patrick Magee’s creepiness is too similar to the creepiness he always seems to do. Did Paddy practice his glower in a mirror? I don’t get why Francesca kisses Prospero tenderly after he has killed her father (an underused Nigel Green). David Lee’s overly insistent score is a bit much, though it’s better during the bloody masque ball sequence.

The ball is the film’s centerpiece, allowing Corman to use his constantly swooping camera to explore all the spaces within the wide screen. This scene has a certain Felliniesque feeling. Masque can be seen as a medieval take on La Dolce Vita.

I wonder if the dwarf and the mysterious figure in a red cloak remained in Roeg’s mind. I’m sure David Lynch has seen Masque. Not only do we have startling uses of red, but the dwarf even dances backward at one point.

“Put me down, you fiendish dwarf.”

Random thought: Price’s character resembles the ruthless landowner he plays in Dragonwyck, both abusing their power at the expense of the peasants who live on their land.

Watched on Amazon Prime. First seen at drive-in theater in Shawmut, AL (now Valley, AL).

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